The team of four filed into the boardroom on the 34th floor of the Pepper Hamilton law firm's Philadelphia office on the night of Nov. 29.
Their competition, another team of rising advertising stars working on a campaign for Philadelphia's prospective Major League Soccer franchise, was already there.
At the end of the long mahogany table sat four people they had to win over, seasoned professionals in the business world, one of whom was an executive with Major League Soccer. After taking in each PowerPoint presentation, and drilling the advertisers on their plans, the four professionals needed only five minutes to confer before picking the winning team, West Chester University.
This scene that played out downtown two weeks ago was not of two professional advertising agencies battling over a new client, but the culmination of a project for two groups of college students taking intro to advertising classes, one from West Chester, the other from Villanova. Their competition in the boardroom earned all of the students, but particularly the ones from West Chester, the utmost respect of their judges.
"I was blown away," said Nick Sakiewicz, one of the founders of Major League Soccer who is now working to bring a team to Philadelphia. "They were as thorough and researched as I've seen from any ad agency."
The advertising showdown was organized by two friends, Ed Lordan at West Chester and Joe Tamney at Villanova, who teach advertising. This is the second time the schools have battled in the boardroom for a hypothetical client, and both times the team from West Chester has won the bid.
"We try and make the situation as realistic as possible," said Lordan, associate professor of communication studies. "This is not an environment that the average 20- and 21-year old is used to . . .. They get the pressure of a real pitch. They dress up for it, plan for it, and feel like they're working in the real world."
Lordan uses competition within his class to motivate the students, pitting groups against one another. For the clash with 'Nova he chose four of his best students, a team he knew would rise to the challenge.
"I definitely think competing against another school, especially such a well-known school as Villanova, made us a little more competitive, and gave us more of an edge to beat them," said Erin McKiernan, 21, a senior majoring in communication studies.
Each group had to come up with a name for the soccer team, and craft an advertising campaign to introduce the Philadelphia region to Major League Soccer. The West Chester students looked to the city's history for inspiration, settling on the Philadelphia Freedom, or the Free.
"We really wanted to encompass the history of Philadelphia in the name, but also make it catchy and memorable," said Jamie Callahan, 21, a junior communications studies major.
The simple and catchy ad campaign linked to the name? "Free the fan in you." Complete with multiplatform advertising, including billboards on I-95 and the Schuylkill Expressway, and ads in magazines, newspapers, on the radio and over the Internet, West Chester's presentation easily set itself apart from its competition.
For their efforts, Callahan and McKiernan and classmates Joe Kelly and Janine Fulginiti will have their names etched on the N.W. Ayer trophy, the pseudo-Stanley Cup that Lordan and Tamney created for the competition and named after America's first ad agency, based in Philadelphia.
"We just felt that West Chester's final product was the best representation of the research that they did," said Sakiewicz, who is also president of sports promoter AEG New York.
"They interviewed other Major League Soccer teams, they understood the budgets, they understood that there's a real soccer market," he said. "They discovered that there was a real viable soccer market that consumes soccer products, and they tailored their advertising and their marketing campaign to that."
Sakiewicz was so impressed with the students that he implored them to look him up after they graduate.
"I'd give those guys [job] interviews any day of the week," he said.